Those active in Orthodox Christian “corners” of Facebook have likely heard of or interacted with His Grace Bishop Christodoulos of Theoupolis, who joined the site as soon as it became open to the public in 2006 (in fact, I joined Facebook when he invited me). Bishop Christodoulos, a vicar bishop in the GOC, quickly reached the Facebook limit of 5000 friends, and while he primarily used it to interact with his spiritual children and promote videos on the YouTube Channel Greek Orthodox Christian Television, he also used it to become one of the most accessible Orthodox Christian bishops online, fielding questions about the Orthodox faith, and directing people to the nearest Orthodox Christian parish.
This week, however, his Facebook page was suddenly deactivated by Facebook, because of its recent decision to more strictly enforce its policy requiring users to use their real names in Facebook profiles. This has always technically been a Facebook policy, but was largely ignored by Facebook staff until recently. Interestingly, the most vocal opponents of this stricter enforcement have been drag queens, who are generally only known in public by their alter ego. It is unknown how many clergy are presently being affected by this change in enforcement.
There is some speculation that the reason that the change in enforcement is being pushed now is to encourage users to create fan pages (mine is here). Fan pages allow the use of a stage name, but there’s a clear downside: posts on Fan pages do not receive the same coverage as posts made to someone’s personal page. Greg Seals comments:
Some believe that the action isn’t a bigoted one, but one driven by monetary gain. If the site forces performers to migrate to fan pages, they’ll have to start dolling out cash to Facebook for higher billing and promoted posts on fans News Feeds. In a post encouraging performers to purchase sponsored posts Facebook admits a non-promoted post only reaches about 16 percent of fans on average.
I can offer my own experience; posts which I only post to my Facebook fan page receive about 1/8 to 1/9 the traffic that posts receive when I subsequently share them on my own personal page.
One of the issues here is that no one knows Bishop Christodoulos by his birth name. It’s not a big secret, and can be found by googling, but it’s not who he is. Much like last names were forced on people during the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment period, ostensibly as part of process of cataloging people as the state’s centralized power grew and populations grew—requiring national censuses for purposes of taxation and military drafts—we are now witnessing a renewed interest in labeling and categorizing people for purposes of data collection, in this case for advertising revenues. This is after the inital days of the Internet, where we were encouraged to adopt a pseudonym and not reveal personal details about ourselves!
While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with advertising, there is a problem when people are forced into a template in order to serve the data. Advertising, products, and the like should serve their customers; customers should not serve the companies that make the products.
Sure, Bishop Christodoulos is free to forgo further participation in Facebook, and this is his intention, he tells me (he may come back under his legal name in order to point people to a new place online where he can be located; he is not sure yet). However, in a world where people are increasingly driven by corporations and entities that seek to profit off people, and where people are being steadily forced into more rigid categorizations that easily permit their categorization and labeling, I think it’s important for the rest of us to admit that our “freedom” to opt out of some things is becoming increasingly more difficult, and places an undue burden on us, due to the direction in which society is headed. We should be wary of attempts by Facebook to tell us that the name on our driver’s license is who we are.
UPDATE: Some people sent us this article, explaining that Facebook had eased up on the drag queens. The fact is, Bishop Christodoulos’s account was suspended after Facebook agreed to let up on the drag queens. Apparently, a vocal, organized group gets special consideration, but not an Orthodox Christian bishop.
Anastasios Hudson is an Orthodox Christian author, speaker, and web developer living in Reston, Virginia. He is the author of Metropolitan Petros of Astoria: A Microcosm of the Old Calendar Movement in America (2014). Your purchase of this book, which is available at the low price of 7.99 (print) and 4.99 (eBook) will help him support his family! His personal website is AnastasiosHudson.com and his Facebook page is located here.